State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Differing takes on a hypothetical cliff

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 11, 2012 5:02 PM
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Several Democratic mayors across the state are calling for a fiscal cliff deal that increases revenue to cities, but GOP county commissioners aren’t singing the same tune.

Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin said the graver concern for him is that a fiscal cliff deal won’t cut spending enough.

“We have the ability locally to provide services and tax for those services,” he said. “If we can’t afford it, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor said he’s not convinced the president’s proposal to raise tax rates on the top two percent of wage earners is wise.

“I think that raising taxes on anyone now is a bad idea,” said Castor. “I think tightening up deductions, tightening up tax loopholes, and trying to increase revenue that way is a better approach.”

But in a conference call with reporters Monday, the mayors of Allentown, Philadelphia, Reading, and York agreed with the president's position that raising revenue is crucial to a deal.

They said, if no deal is reached, the scheduled automatic spending cuts, especially to education, would be almost impossible to absorb.

The relative nonchalance may be a matter of how the money flows. Counties don’t receive funding directly from the federal government, so it’s hard to know how automatic spending cuts would affect each county, because any federal dollars are first passed through state agencies.

“As a general rule, when there are cuts on pass-through programs, we simply cut those services because the counties are not equipped to pay for them using our property tax formula,” said Castor.

Of course, the lack of concern could also reflect some partisan ideology.

Martin suggested counties should be able to provide core services with less funding. He argued the counties did that this past budget cycle, when certain human services received 10 percent less in state dollars.  But for next year's budget in Lancaster County, Martin and his colleagues are proposing a nearly 10 percent tax hike.

Social services are among the areas that could be most affected if the country goes off the fiscal cliff, along with education.

The governor’s Budget Office estimates the total impact on the commonwealth could be about $300 million.

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